This year — 2018 — is the year where the conversation around mental health is no longer taboo.
Bringing awareness and breaking the stigma of mental health is more important than ever. Mental health concerns can happen to anyone, so if someone you know is struggling with their mental health, here is a cheat sheet of things to keep in mind.
1. People are not their diagnosis
A person with a mental health concern is just that — a person. A diagnosis doesn’t define who they are, and those who have a mental health concern should not be treated any differently.
According to MindSet, a resource that examines reporting on mental health, “discrimination feeds misinformation.”
Calling someone a schizophrenic is a problem because referring to an individual by the label of their mental health concern is wrong, but saying someone has schizophrenia is not.
Amy LaDuke, a 22-year-old Calgarian who lives with bipolar II disorder, explains it as thus: “If someone has a broken leg, they aren’t defined by their broken leg.”
2. Mental health is a spectrum
From anxiety to hypomanic bipolar disorder (an extreme version of bipolar), the scope of mental illnesses is wide-ranging. Specificity matters. For example, having a broken leg is far different than having heart problems. They’re all treated differently, so why would we lump them together?
According to MindSet, “even within schizophrenia, potentially the most severely challenging mental illnesses, there is no uniformity. People may have mild, medium or severe forms of the disorder.”
3. Treating mental health requires a tailored approach
When talking with someone about a mental health concern, there is a need to understand that every mind is different. Similar to the second point, mental health is a spectrum — a method that works for someone with anxiety might not work for someone who has post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I think mental health is the same as physical health — you need to actively work on it to be healthier and you need a certain individualized program that you follow that keeps you mentally healthy,” says Jenna Warren, a peer facilitator with Canadian Mental Health Association in Calgary. “Everyone’s program looks different, and no one’s is easy to figure out.”
4. The term ‘committed suicide’ sends the wrong message
Suicide is still considered a crime in some parts of the world, such as Ghana, Kenya, and Saudi Arabia. The term “committed” is defined as “carrying out or perpetrating a mistake, crime or immoral act.”
A more appropriate phrase is “die by suicide,” and in Canada, suicide is not considered illegal.
According to Jessica Ravitz, a CNN Reporter who wrote an article on why using ‘committed’ is using the wrong word, “It implies sin or crime. We commit sins, and/or crimes”.
5. Turn mental illness to mental wellness
Mental illness can be a result of a chemical imbalance of the brain. However, trying to be more positive and empathetic about the language we use when we talk about mental illness.
While some people may not see anything negative about referring to a mental health concern as mental illness. When it comes to mental health and the language we use around it, it is important not to stigmatize sufferer.
“The term illness has its own negative connotation on it that, to me, adds to the stigma built up by [the] media, and that has stopped people from reaching out and asking for help,” says Jenna Warren, a peer facilitator with the Canadian Mental Health Association in Calgary.
“Illness sounds like there is something wrong with you, [but] when you are working on your mental wellness it doesn’t mean you’re ill.”
- By Jayme Crosser